Your Illinois Fighting Illini are currently one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, if not the country. Winners of four straight and five out of the last six, Underwood and Co. look like absolute world beaters. Now, another big test awaits this young team as they travel to Wisconsin.
What will the red hot Illini need to prepare for against an angry Badgers team?
Limit Ethan Happ
I touched on this the last time Wisconsin played Illinois. Happ is one of those guys who will take over a game and beat a team on his own. Happ leads Wisconsin in points per game (18.4), rebounds per game (10.5), and assists per game (4.8). As Happ goes, so goes Wisconsin.
However, as Wisconsin’s last two losses have shown, even Happ can’t always carry this team to a victory. If Illinois hopes to win its second huge matchup on the road, Happ must be accounted for on all possessions. Illinois severely limited Happ in their matchup in Champaign. A repeat of that defensive performance could bode well for what seems to be an entirely different Illinois squad.
Nate Reuvers...The Killer In The Last Matchup
Reuvers stood in the gap for Wisconsin’s victory over Illinois in their last matchup that featured a shut down of Happ. Now, Illinois should have plans to limit and stop the same thing from happening in round 2. With 22 points and 10 rebounds, Reuvers showed out to give Wisconsin a victory and Illinois needs to counter that punch if the game plays out in a similar fashion. Averaging only 8,5 points per game, Illinois has to keep him in that same neighborhood.
The improved play of De La Rosa should help to keep Nate out of the paint and the improved three point defense should limit the damage done from behind the line, as Reuvers shoots nearly 40% on the season.
Force Wisconsin To The Line
One overlooked struggle for Wisconsin is their free throw shooting, or lack thereof. At under 65%, that is an area of Wisconsin’s game that Underwood should be able to benefit from. In a crunch situation, should Illinois need to put the Badgers at the free throw line, Illinois may be able to squeeze back into the game.
Force Turnovers and Limit Shot Attempts
Wisconsin is one of the best shooting teams in the country at over 46% per game, good for third in the Big Ten. If you give the Badgers the looks, they are likely to make those shots. The defensive effort that the Illini have shown over the last month is exactly what must be pushed in order to throw Wisconsin off their game. Look for a majority of a press defense throughout the game as Illinois looks to force the Badgers in to multiple mistakes.
Not gonna bet against my Illini. This team is playing like a different team of late and I firmly believe that they can beat anyone right now. I was more impressed with their road win over Ohio State compared to their home victory over Michigan State. I expect the good vibes to continue in Madison as the Illini roll to a 72-68 victory
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